European Council greenlights free mobile roaming

A final vote by the European Council has legally approved the 'roam like home' system whereby EU consumers will be charged for their regular phone plans while travelling throughout the EU as of mid June.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

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Free mobile roaming across the European Union has cleared its final hurdle, with the European Council voting in favour of the system on Tuesday.

From June 15, users with an EU SIM card and mobile plan will be able to use their data, voice, and messaging plans without incurring extra charges when travelling across EU member nations.

Non-EU members of the European Economic Area (EEA) Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway will additionally join the "roam like home" program after June 15.

The council noted, however, that "special rules" apply to those with unlimited data phone plans and prepaid SIM cards, and that the system "is not intended to allow permanent roaming where a customer would take out a subscription in the cheapest possible country and use it to roam in his home country".

"If at home you have unlimited calls and SMS, you will get unlimited calls and SMS when roaming in the EU," the commission's FAQ says.

"If at home you have unlimited mobile data or very cheap mobile data, your operator may apply a safeguard (fair use) limit on data use while roaming. If this is the case, the operator will have to inform you in advance about such a limit and have to alert you in case you reach it. That safeguard limit will be high enough to cover most, if not all, of your roaming needs. Beyond this threshold, you can continue data roaming, subject to a small charge (maximum €7.70/GB + VAT; this will decline gradually to reach €2.50/GB as of 2022)."

Following the European Parliament's approval of the wholesale regulation on April 6, Tuesday's vote was the last legal formality prior to the European Council adopting the legislation.

"Today's final vote in the council clears the path for free roaming," Malta's Minister for Competitiveness and Digital, Maritime and Services Economy Emmanuel Mallia said overnight.

"When Europeans go on holiday this summer, they can enjoy the freedom of being able to stay in touch and use the internet as if they were at home. The EU is making our lives easier in very practical ways."

The European Commission in February announced reaching an agreement with the European Parliament and the European Council on how much providers are permitted to charge each other for use of their networks for roaming throughout the EU.

Wholesale roaming prices will be capped at 3.2 euro cents per minute for voice calls and 1 euro cent per SMS as of June 15. Data prices will slowly be reduced over the next five years: €7.70 per GB as of June 15, 2017; €6 per GB as of January 1, 2018; €4.50 per GB as of January 1, 2019; €3.50 per GB as of January 1, 2020; €3 per GB as of January 1, 2021; and €2.50 per GB as of January 1, 2022.

Prior to the decision, consumers paid a maximum of 5 euro cents per minute for voice calls; 2 euro cents per SMS; and 5 euro cents per MB of data as of this month.

However, the commission's adoption of a fair use and sustainability policy in December last year will enable consumers to simply use their phone plans when travelling throughout the EU.

"As of 15 June 2017, consumers will be able to use their mobile device when travelling in the EU, paying the same prices as at home, ie to 'Roam like at Home'," the commission said last year.

"Any voice call, SMS, and data session made while travelling abroad in the EU will be deducted from the monthly package of minutes, SMS, and data in the home country with no extra charges. This means the end of roaming charges as travellers have experienced them so far."

The European Commission had been long planning to scrap global roaming fees by 2016, with the European Parliament voting in a proposal to have roaming prices dictated by local competition in the country being visited by travellers.

However, in March 2015, a majority of the 28 European Union member states in the European Council barred this from occurring by voting in favour of maintaining roaming charges until 2018.

They suggested an alternative scheme that would grant travellers a "basic roaming allowance" -- of only 5MB per day -- and calls, messaging, and data usage thereafter charged at a rate set lower than the maximum wholesale rate paid by operators to use the networks in other countries.

The commission is due to review the new process by 2019.

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